Just 90 of the at least 387 law enforcement agencies in Florida, less than one in four, are submitting their data to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s national database on police use of force. The state is lagging behind the rest of the country, with over 50% of all police agencies participating, according to the FBI.
FBI data published last year shows just 73 agencies in Florida participating, but that number will be updated to 90, the agency confirmed. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement provided FLORIDA TODAY with the most recent listing of agencies that participated in 2020 which is due to be published by the FBI this summer.
The stakes are significant: in the face of growing demands for police accountability, data is increasingly important to understanding how widespread use of force by law enforcement agencies across the country.
Moreover, the call for the data came from the Trump administration that was widely seen to be pro-law enforcement. Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order last June that, among other actions, encouraged participation in the database.
Examining the numbers: Police use of force data ‘a huge mess’ across the U.S.
For years, top law enforcement officials and police accountability proponents have pushed for the establishment and participation of such a database.
Then FBI Director James Comey, speaking to a private gathering of police officials in 2015 said it was “ridiculous” that such data was not readily available.
“You can get online and figure out how many tickets were sold to The Martian … (but) it’s ridiculous – embarrassing and ridiculous – that we can’t talk about crime in the same way, especially in the high-stakes incidents when your officers have to use force,” he reportedly said, bemoaning that The Washington Post and The Guardian were the public’s principal source of use of force data.
The participation of police agencies directly impacts the value and use of the database, which highlights why Florida’s participation is so important.
“Florida is participating in the FBI’s Use of Force Database and has submitted all the 2020 data we received from local Florida agencies,” FDLE spokesperson Gretl Plessinger told FLORIDA TODAY in an email.
According to the FDLE, data collected last fall and submitted to the FBI in January just isn’t displaying yet.
“We have contacted the FBI several times about why our data isn’t appearing in their Use of Force Database. They indicated that Florida is the first state to submit the data electronically and they are working to fix the problem,” Plessinger wrote.
The FBI, in a lengthy statement attributed the delay to their publishing schedule.
“The third data release … is scheduled for Summer 2021, this data release will have an updated number of Florida agencies participating. With this data release, 2019 data will be refreshed, over 50 percent of all federal, state, local, college/university, and tribal sworn law enforcement officers being represented for the year 2020, and the first quarter will be published for 2021.”
Until this month, buy-in for the database across the United States was reported at just 27%. The recent increase to over 50% represents a significant jump, but still falls short of the threshold needed to give the data value.
The database, established two years ago by the Trump Administration, requires at least 60% of police departments around the country to participate before data on the actual use of force incidents begins to be made public with more data released as participation increases. Currently the only data published are the names of participating agencies.
Statewide the participation rate is just 19% according to what the FBI data currently shows, with the updated list from FDLE the rate inches up to 23%.
Among those organizations supporting the data collection is the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). On their website they provide instructions on how to submit data:
“Agencies may report to the FBI only through the FBI’s Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP). To apply for a LEEP account, a chief or officer should go to www.cjis.gov and click on “Apply for an Account.” Once the LEEP account is authorized, users may register for the “National Use-of-Force Data Collection.” Use of this portal requires no financial investment and allows agencies and state programs to manage all aspects of their use-of-force data.”
The data collected includes:
- When a fatality occurs to a person in connection to use of force by a law enforcement officer.
- When there is serious bodily injury to a person in connection with use of force by a law enforcement officer.
- In the absence of either death or serious bodily injury, when a firearm is discharged by a law enforcement officer at or in the direction of a person
- Demographic information about the subject(s) and officer(s) involved such as race, ethnicity, age, sex.
In Brevard County, just four agencies are listed as participating: Melbourne Beach, Satellite Beach, Cocoa and Palm Bay.
Questions about the lack of participation by Brevard’s largest law enforcement agency, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, went unanswered.
Spokespersons for several of Brevard’s municipal law enforcement agencies expressed confusion about the database, many had simply not heard of it, and questioned whether the data sought was that which they are mandated to report to the FDLE anyway.
Changes in national reporting systems also add the to confusion as most states are shifting to or have entirely moved to using a system called NIBRS (National Incident-Based Reporting System) and away from the traditional Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system.
West Melbourne’s Police Chief, Richard T. Wiley, said he could not recall the FBI or DOJ ever conducting any significant outreach to local law enforcement on how to participate in the database, but said his department was more than ready to report use of force data which they already provide to the FDLE.
“I haven’t really discussed this with anybody other than you, if that tells you that it hasn’t been a big thing on my radar,” Wiley told a reporter.
Participation in the database is not mandated, though much of the same data is required to be reported to the FDLE. Wiley said the department always makes sure it complies with reporting that’s required.
“I think the question I would have is, why don’t they just require it?”
In a follow up email he wrote: “We will be participating in this process in the near future as FDLE continues to roll out the use of force reporting program.”
The FBI in their statement, insisted they conduct outreach through “various means” including marketing videos, articles and “coordination with state leadership.”
Does your Florida police department or sheriff’s office participate in the FBI’s use of force database?
Here is the list of participating agencies provided by the FDLE or reported by the FBI:
- Alachua County Sheriff’s Office
- Altamonte Springs Police Department
- Atlantic Beach Police Department
- Atlantis Police Department
- Aventura Police Department
- Baker County Sheriff’s Office
- Boynton Beach Police Department
- Bradenton Police Department
- Broward County Sheriff’s Office
- Clearwater Police Department
- Clermont Police Department
- Cocoa Police Department
- Coral Gables Police Department
- Daytona Beach Shores Public Safety Department
- Defuniak Springs Police Department
- Deland Police Department
- Delray Beach Police Department
- Desoto County Sheriff’s Office
- Edgewood Police Department
- Escambia County Sheriff’s Office
- Eustis Police Department
- FL School For Deaf And Blind Campus Police Security Services
- Flagler County Sheriff’s Office
- Florida Atlantic University Police Department
- Florida City Police Department
- Florida Gulf Coast University Campus Police And Safety
- Florida International University Police Department
- Florida State University, University Police Department
- Fort Myers Police Department
- Fort Walton Beach Police Department
- Gulf Stream Police Department
- Gulfport Police Department
- Hernando County Sheriff’s Office
- Highland Beach Police Department
- Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office
- Lake County Sheriff’s Office
- Lake Wales Police Department
- Lauderhill Police Department
- Lawtey Police Department
- Lee County Port Authority Police Department
- Levy County Sheriff’s Office
- Lighthouse Point Police Department
- Longwood Police Department
- Manatee County Sheriff’s Office
- Melbourne Beach Police Department
- Miami Shores Police Department
- Miami-Dade Police Department
- Miami-Dade Schools Police Department
- New College Of Florida Police Department
- New Smyrna Beach Police Department
- Orange County Sheriff’s Office
- Orlando Police Department
- Ormond Beach Police Department
- Oviedo Police Department
- Palm Bay Police Department
- Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office
- Palm Beach Police Department
- Palm Springs Public Safety Department
- Panama City Airport Police
- Pasco County Sheriff’s Office
- Pensacola Police Department
- Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office
- Pinellas Park Police Department
- Plant City Police Department
- Plantation Police Department
- Port Orange Police Department
- Port St. Lucie Police Department
- Punta Gorda Police Department
- Putnam County Sheriff’s Office
- Sanford Police Department
- Sarasota Police Department
- Satellite Beach Police Department
- Sneads Police Department
- South Daytona Police Department
- St. Augustine Beach Police Department
- Stuart Police Department
- Sumter County Sheriff’s Office
- Tampa International Airport Police Department
- Tarpon Springs Police Department
- Temple Terrace Police Department
- University Of Central Florida, University Police Department
- University Of Florida, University Police Department
- University Of West Florida, Police Department
- Venice Police Department
- Vero Beach Police Department
- Volusia County Sheriff’s Office
- West Palm Beach Police Department
- Wildwood Police Department
- Winter Garden Police Department
- Winter Springs Police Department
Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon is a watchdog reporter for FLORIDA TODAY. Contact him at [email protected] Twitter: @alemzs